Torchwood: Cyberwoman

We are made in the image of God. While I am not a literalist and do not believe that the creation stories in genesis detail the origin of life, I believe that the narratives serve to remind us that each individual person is cared for and loved by God. Being made in the image of God means that we are loved beyond our wildest imagination and that we also have a worth that goes beyond whatever arbitrary characteristics that society deems to be the epitome of human perfection. It doesn’t matter if you have blonde hair and blue eyes, or dark skin, hair, and eyes. It doesn’t matter if your face is symmetrical or if you think that your face should be hidden under a plastic bag. God loves you. And those who claim to follow God are called to advocate for the least of these and for the despised in society. We are called to help bring bout the kingdom of God-a kingdom defined by compassion and justice.

Most people, when reading over the above paragraph will nod their heads in agreement. “Of course we should advocate for love and justice. Of course every person is made in the image of God.” Such sentiments are nice when spoken out loud or written in a blog post that one can read and walk away from. But in the real world such sentiments are difficult. What does it mean to say that everyone is made in the image of God? It means that the cute, minute old newborn is made in God’s image, that she has value and that she is cherished. But it also means that those whom we consider to be monsters, who have discarded their humanity are also loved by God. Even though their horrendous actions and words make seeing them in the image of God difficult, that does not change the fact that despite their actions they are still loved by God. Imagine a person or a group of people who have committed horrible atrocities and yet pause to think that they too are loved by God. That seems-wrong. Can one hold onto the notion that yeah God loves them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be stopped? It is tempting to say, “God loves them, but I don’t.” But even if one were to embrace whole heartedly that God’s love is for all-how does one live that out in the real world? Does it mean that those who are committing atrocious actions get a free pass and that they shouldn’t be stopped? Of course not. But talking about being made in the image of God and about God’s encompassing love can become clichéd when it is done without acknowledgement of what is going on around us.

In Cyberwoman we are introduced to Lisa, a young 25 year old woman who had worked at Torchwood London during the battle of Canary Wharf. During that battle, the cybermen began to convert the members of Torchwood London into cybermen. Towards the end of the battle, instead of simply transplanting brains they began to upgrade bodies. Lisa’s conversion was not finished, and she was left as a human-cyberman hybrid (though she looks more like an interesting cross between a BDSM mistress and a Doctor Who cosplayer). When we first meet her at the beginning of the episode, not only is it surprising that she still looks human, but she is able to express human emotion. It becomes clear very early on, that she and Ianto are in love. It also seems as if the process of turning her human will be fairly straight forward since she looks human, feels emotion, and is able to survive being disconnected from a cybermen conversion unit that Ianto had been using as her life support system.

LISA: Why aren’t I connected?
IANTO: You’re alive. He kept you alive.
LISA: Thank you.
TANIZAKI: This is only the start.
(A monitor beeps. Ianto calls up the image of the four walking across the Plass towards Torchwood.)
IANTO: We’ve got to move. Quickly!
LISA: I’ll walk.
IANTO: You’ve only just woken up. You can’t.
LISA: I want to walk. Please.
IANTO: Help her downstairs. I’ll clear up here.
LISA: I’m alive!

This being Torchwood, things start going badly fairly quickly. While Ianto is attempting to make things at the station look normal, as the other Torchwood members unexpectedly return to the station, Lisa kills Dr. Tanizaki, who was supposed aid in converting her back into full functioning human. Lisa had attempted to convert him and failed. Things go from bad to worse when Owen and Gwen start looking for the source that is draining the station’s power. Owen is knocked out and Lisa immediately attempts to upgrade Gwen. Luckily Captain Jack saves Gwen but he is unable to kill Lisa because Ianto prevents him from shooting her. It immediately becomes apparent that Jack and Ianto are at odds with how to deal with the situation. Jack has only seen Lisa as a cyberwoman, a dangerous creation that has lost her humanity. Ianto, however, having kept her hidden for months, has seen glimpses of her humanity and has fallen in love with her. Jack only sees the monster and Ianto only sees his lover.

IANTO: My loyalty’s to her. She worked for Torchwood. She was caught up in battle. I owe it to Lisa, we owe it to her, to find a cure.
JACK: Ianto, you have to believe me, there is no cure. There never will be. Those who are converted stay that way. Your girlfriend will not be the exception.
IANTO: You can’t know that for sure.
JACK: Look, you need to know what’s happening here. Because this is where these things start. Small decisions that become mass slaughter. These creatures regain a foothold by exploiting human weakness. Then they take a base, rebuild their forces, and before you know it, the Cyber race is spreading out across the universe, erasing worlds, assimilating populations, all because of the tiny beginnings here. We need to stop her together.

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Captain Jack, clearly has a point. She is dangerous and capable of killing vast amounts of people. And if she ever successfully manages to figure out how to complete her upgrade or convert others, the whole planet could be in danger. Yet, as Ianto points out, the conversion is not complete. As a result, there is a possibility that she could be redeemed. She could become fully human again.

Even when Ianto tries to talk to her and to make contact with what is left of her humanity and he is rebuffed, he refuses to give up on her.

LISA: The upgrade is incomplete.
IANTO: You’re still human.
LISA: I am disgusting. I have. I am wrong.
IANTO: We can help you.
LISA: I must start again. Upgrade properly.
IANTO: For God’s sake, have you heard yourself? Lisa, please. I brought you here to heal you, so we could be together.
LISA: Together. Yes. Transplant my brain into your body. The two of us together, fused. We’ll be one complete person. Isn’t that what love is?
IANTO: No.
LISA: Then we are not compatible.

After Captain Jack attempts to kill her, by having Torchwood’s pterodactyl attack her (only in the Torchwood and doctor who universe would that sentence make sense), Ianto accuses Jack of being heartless:

IANTO: You could have saved her. You’re worse than anything locked up down there. One day, I’ll have the chance to save you, and I’ll watch you suffer and die.
JACK: It was the only thing that would stop her!

Lisa survives the pterodactyl attack, though she has taken over the body of an innocent woman who had simply been stuck with the task of delivering pizza to the station. Bits of her humanity show through-even though it is mixed with the horror that she killed another person without a second thought.

ANNIE/LISA: You fought so hard for me, I had to hold on for you, so I took this body and transplanted the brain.
IANTO: You’re not Lisa.
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IANTO: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Lisa.
ANNIE/LISA: We can be upgraded together.

Lisa is finally killed when the rest of the Torchwood gang opens fire on her. Captain Jack’s actions are understandable-hell, they were probably necessary to stop Lisa from wrecking more death and destruction. Yet, watching the episode, I couldn’t help but imagine God has reacting more like Ianto (without threatening to allow Jack to suffer and die) then Jack. As someone who rejects notions of hell and eternal punishment, I am left with a God who unabashedly loves everyone. That idea is fine when I think about all the people I love-but it comes difficult when I think about those I consider to be monsters. The Islamic State for instance. I don’t think I can describe the disgust I feel towards them as they continue to massacre men, women, and children in the name of God. They point out the atrocities of American foreign policy yet they continue to kill and enslave people. To me, they are monsters. And to be honest I have to admit I wouldn’t mind if every single adult member of the organization was killed. They need to be stopped. Yet at the same time-if I believe God loves everyone-it means everyone. Some of the recruits that have gotten the most media attention have been young men and women-teenagers who for whatever reason have decided that they want to back a group that regularly ad gleefully beheads people just to make a point. The Islamic State is comprised of people that have families and people who love them yet they regularly kill others, leaving their victims’ family members devastated and heart broken.

The Islamic State needs to be stopped. But the annoying thing about God is that for God redemption is always possible and God’s love is limitless. While I want the Islamic State and all who comprise it to be destroyed, God frequently reminds me that they are God’s children too. Made in God’s image. I don’t have any solutions-I don’t know how they should be stopped. I don’t have any answers so I can’t dictate what those in authority should do. But what I do know is that as horrific as their actions are, God loves them. And that makes me uncomfortable and it also challenges me. It is easy to talk about God’s love as a theoretical idea, it’s much harder to make it concrete.

Torchwood: Ghost Machine

TOSH: Transducers convert energy from one form into another. They’re in headphones. They convert electrical signals into sound, and they’re in this device too, converting quantum energy and amplifying it.
GWEN: Into ghosts.
JACK: Of course. It’s emotion. Human emotion is energy. You can’t always see it, or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well, there was. There always is.
GWEN: A ghost.

As far as I know quantum transducers are a thing of fiction, though who knows what the American military is secretly working on…(NSA I swear, I know NOTHING! Haha). And to be honest when it comes to ghost, I am a skeptic. I have never personally encountered a ghost, and most of the stories I have heard have been sketchy and seem to be based on tropes, rather than on any actual experience. Yet despite my skepticism, I find the notion of ghosts to be fascinating. They are often used to provide a link to some past person or event-a past that most would often rather forget. They often serve as a reminder of pain and suffering. A consumerist society-based on buying and discarding has very little use for the past-especially for a past that is unpleasant and painful. New things that are representative of the future are often touted as a panacea for what aids the loneliness and despair that many individuals feel. But ghosts interrupt that narrative and provide a counter narrative that hints at how the past can never simply be thrown away and discarded. They are an embodiments of the past that serve to haunt those that would rather forget. Yet conversely, some become so obsessed with the past, that the present holds very little meaning. Some ghost stories for instance, focus on revenge and somehow righting some past wrong.

For torchwood, ghosts are not to be thought of as simply a nonphysical presence comprised solely of those who have died-instead they are, as Jack describes them, echoes of a moment.

In the beginning of the episode, the transducer transports Gwen to the very same train station-decades earlier. Where she sees a little, lost boy, whose fear and confusion is palpable. But she not only sees the little boy, but she is experiencing the very same emotions-fear, confusion, and helplessness. And she is unable to help him. The torchwood team eventually track down the little boy-who has now become an old man and he shares his story with Gwen-a story that still impacts him decades later:

TOM: We were taken to the countryside from here. My mother packed me a suitcase, big sister wrote my name on a card. They put me on a train at Paddington. Kept saying I had to go, had to be a good boy. Telling me not to cry, and the pair of them were crying their eyes out. That was the last I saw of them, though I didn’t know that then of course, waving goodbye.
GWEN: How old were you?
TOM: Eight.
GWEN: You must have been very, very frightened.
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The one moment that Gwen was privy too, was part of a larger tale of war, death, suffering, and new beginnings. The very modern station that she and the torchwood team was running through at the beginning of the episode-was the setting of a tragic story, a story in which war separated families-some forever. The stories of World War II have been told so often that the war and all that happened in it seem to be regulated to a time long ago. Yeah Hitler was evil, the Japanese were evil, lots of people were killed, but the “good” people won, the end. Yet Gwen was able to go beyond that bare bones narrative for a brief few seconds and experience the fear and confusion of one lost little boy-a boy who turned into a man yet who was able to vividly recount his experiences. But for Gwen, as disconcerting as this experience was-she was able to have some form of closure. The lost little boy made himself a new home and a new life. Gwen is able, perhaps, to learn from her brush with the past, but does not become obsessed over it. Owen’s experience with the transducer is vastly different.

Owen witnesses a heart rendering scene where a young woman is cornered by a young man. Her fear is palpable as Owen hears the young man repeatedly calling out to her: Lizzie! The young man, who we soon find out is named Ed is manipulative and dangerous. Yet Owen can do nothing but watch in horror as the scene unfolds before him:

LIZZIE: You’re a bad one, Ed Morgan. The girls said not to go with you, and they were right.
EDDIE: Am I bad? Am I a bad boy? You’re a big girl now, Lizzie. You can make your own decisions. That’s why I like you. You’re not like the others. You don’t follow the herd. You’re smart. Don’t you like it that someone can see how smart you are, hmm? I can see you, Lizzie, the way you really are.
(Eddie kisses Lizzie. She tries to break free and he slaps her, then gets out a flick knife.)
EDDIE: I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t.
LIZZIE: I, I told my mum I’d be home by nine.
EDDIE: Shush.
LIZZIE: Please! Oh, God, someone help me. Help me. Help me!
When the vision ends, Owen is in shock.
GWEN: Owen? Owen, are you all right?
OWEN: She, she was so scared. I couldn’t, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t help her.
The torchwood team discovers that Lizzie had been raped and murdered and that no one had been charged in her death. Owen, becomes obsessed with providing some sort of justice-even though-as Jack points out-there is no way for the police to become involved-not when alien technology is involved. For Owen, the past gnaws at him with an intensity that prevents him from sleeping. He wants some sort of justice. And yes, I am a firm believer that justice is necessary-that wrongs from the past cannot and should not be ignored and discarded. But the thing about justice is that it does nothing to change the past. And since institutional forms of justice are closed off to Owen since he can’t very well go into a police station with the transducer in hand, he becomes fixated with revenge. Justice, at least in theory, is about addressing past wrongs, (without believing that the past can somehow be made ‘alright’ by future action), taking measures to prevent it from happening again, and seeking to remember the past without becoming fanatical about it or using the past as an excuse to commit overt wrongs. Jack, wants him to forget about what he witnessed and experienced and move on, but he is unable. The only recourse he feels he has access too is revenge. The problem with revenge is that it obsesses over the past. Living in the present becomes impossible, and unlike justice, revenge suffers under the illusion that if only one could make the party responsible for causing injustice suffer then somehow what happened in the past becomes all right.

Yet it’s not only the past that can hold us hostage. Towards the end of the episode it is discovered that the transducer can also present a version of the future-Jack is careful to point out that the vision may not happen-it is only showing one of many possible futures. Yet the transducer shows Gwen a vision of her covered in blood, in shock, apologetic that she is unable to save someone. She becomes determined to not let that happen. This is another echo of a moment-one from the future that may or may not happen. Yet the pull is just as strong as if it had happened in the past-if not more so because once something occurs in the past-it is unalterable. Lizzy was killed in 1963 and no matter how unjust her death was-she is still going to be dead-whether Owen exacts his revenge or not. But the future is malleable in a way that the past is not. As a result Gwen becomes desperate in preventing her vision from coming true. The torchwood gang figure out the sequence of what they think might happen-that Ed would kill another character-Bernie, but they manage to stop Ed in time. There is a tense moment where Owen seems as if he will kill Ed but he doesn’t and he hands Gwen the knife. And Gwen is so happy that the vision seems to have been thwarted. Yet Ed ends up killing himself by walking into the knife. The vision ended up occurring, just not in the manner that she nor anyone else had accepted. And Gwen is understandably devastated by the turn of events and she feels guilty-despite any reassurances from Jack.

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One interpretation of this episode is fatalistic-one could say-well since the past is unchangeable any injustices done should be forgotten-especially if there is little chance of legal redress. And one could view the future as a set course. But to make such an interpretation is easy because it requires little self-reflection or action. A more fruitful interpretation is one that requires critical self-reflection. The ghosts of the past and future, moments that are gone and moments yet to come can become prisons, if we obsesses over them. Holding onto a painful past and agonizing over the future, causes anguish and suffering without contributing anything positive. Yet at the same time-one cannot-should not ignore the past. One shouldn’t try to suppress the memory of horrible actions or events. For instance, while the rest of the world might have forgotten the Rwandan genocide-the reality is that the memory of the genocide lives on in the Congo-as it may have helped fuel some of the many problems going on, it may not have caused them-but it most likely did not help. Not to mention that the survivors of the genocide are haunted by the slaughter that they witnessed. The past impacts the present and future. Ignoring situations such as what occurred in Rwanda is not the solution-intentional acts of remembrance that dos not just give lip service to the atrocities but seeks to ensure that I does not happen again is what is needed. A violent reaction-in which the perpetrators or those who belong to the same ethnic group as the perpetrators would be slaughtered in turn, is also an inadequate response-it would be an attempt to ‘right” what occurred in the past-yet in reality it simply continues the cycle of pain and suffering and it perpetrates injustice.

Conversely, fearing the future can also be harmful. Now, to be fair, if one knows that one has the possibility of stopping something bad from occurring, one has the obligation to do it. Gwen saw that someone was going to die-as a result she had to do something. She couldn’t just sit back and think- “well maybe someone will die, or maybe not.” Yet despite her best actions, someone ended up dead. She wanted to avoid creating another painful ghost-or echo of a moment. Yet she couldn’t-despite her best intentions. While of course, we should do everything in our power to prevent pain and suffering and injustice from occurring, the fact is pain and suffering will occur. Violence will be perpetrated. The question becomes-how do you balance that knowledge without resulting to fatalism? How do we continue to do all we can to prevent injustice-while recognizing that there will be times where we will fail? How do we prevent ourselves from living in fear of the future? How do we allow the ‘ghosts’ that surround us serve as reminders to propel us to engage in justice work without consuming us or causing us to fall into despair?

Torchwood Day One: We All Make Mistakes, get over it.

Let’s just get this over with from the get go: this episode involves a gas-like alien that kills men by having sex with them. This episode quickly dashes anyone’s hope that Torchwood would be just another version of Doctor Who. (I suspect that’s part of the reason why they decided to create an alien that kills through sex, not exactly a concept one can use in Doctor Who.) No, as far as I know-Christian theology isn’t exactly concerned with sex killing aliens, however, Christianity places a heavy emphasis on forgiveness. While many denominations-especially some of the more evangelical and fundamentalist types emphasize stress guilt and shame to the point where forgiveness is overshadowed, some of the mainline and progressive denominations have the opposite problem.   In an attempt to present a more loving God they often seek to present a God of radical forgiveness and acceptance, yet perhaps without realizing it they instead present a God out of out of touch with the consequences that thoughtlessness, mistakes, and sins can have. While evangelicals and fundamentalists can present a vengeful and unloving God, consumed with wrath, mainliners and progressives present a God who simply seems to exist to ensure that the status quo does not upset or made to feel uncomfortable.

On Gwen Cooper’s first day as an official member of Torchwood she accidentally sets loose an alien of unknown origin. While Torchwood does not know anything about the alien, their experience tells them that whatever was unleashed as the potential to cause chaos, destruction, and death. Gwen, immediately feels guilt and while Owen, being Owen gives her a hard time while Captain Jack seems to brush off the incident.

GWEN: I mean, it was just gas, wasn’t it? That can’t be too bad, can it?
OWEN: Right, because gas never did anyone any harm.
JACK: On the plus side, we’ve got good evidence, relatively undamaged.
OWEN: On the downside, there’s an alien on the loose. We don’t know where it is, why it’s here or what it’s going to do.
TOSH: Give her a break.
GWEN: God, this has been the worst first day ever.
JACK: We all make mistakes. Get over it. Now, we find and recover whatever came out of there.

Gas

On surface, Captain’s Jack’s reaction is understandable. They do not have any time to waste playing the blame game nor being consumed by guilt. Yet as the episode unravels one begins to see that while pragmatism may play a role in how Torchwood operates and reacts, they have also forgotten what it means to not be consumed by their job.

Shortly after the alien is released, she claims her first victim, a young man.

JACK: We’ll need a body from the cryo-chamber, close match for the dead guy’s appearance. Disfigure the face, dump it someplace remote, make it look like a suicide attempt.
GWEN: You have a stash of bodies?
GWEN: What about his family? You can’t just fake his death.
JACK: You want to tell his family he died screwing an alien?

While Jack clearly has a point that telling the young man’s family members how he really died would not be a good idea-what is really striking is Jack’s blasé attitude toward the whole situation. One understands why Jack does not want the family to know the truth-yet the way he chooses to have the death covered up is to take another body and have it positioned as if the death was caused by a SUICIDE. While any form of death is devastating, believing someone you loved died from suicide can wreck one with helplessness and guilt. He saves the family from knowing the embarrassing truth of how their son died- but he condemns them to a lifetime of guilt and shame.

GWEN: It’s my fault. If it weren’t for me, he’d still be alive.
JACK: That’ll get you nowhere, that thinking. At least now we know a little more. The alien’s taken on a host body
GWEN: We can’t let her kill again.

Again Jack dismisses Gwen’s concerns. Jack prevent her from becoming consumed by guilt yet he also prevents her from wrestling with the consequences of her actions. Inadvertently he is encouraging her to develop a coldness where mistakes and the consequences of one’s actions (intended or not) are an afterthought. While the episode does not specify how much time has passed between the first episode and this one, it is striking to note how the group seems to have moved on from the death of Suzie-someone who they had worked with for years. While such a transition is easy for the viewer-who barely knew Suzie-the transition should be much more difficult for the original team members.

Now one may be wondering, “well what does this have to do with forgiveness and progressive Christian theology?” Progressive Christianity seeks to present a God that is radically loving, not one that appears as cold as Captain Jack. They want to avoid the excesses that their evangelical and conservative peers when it comes to guilt. Yet at times the forgiveness that seems to be offered is “cheap.” Like Captain Jack, they want to avoid people becoming consumed with guilt, but inadvertently they also prevent people from wrestling with the ramifications of their actions. There are some things we should feel guilt about. Religion can make us fear shame of who we are or irrationally guilty for mistakes we have made or sins we have committed. Yet at the other extreme, religion can offer a cheap kind of grace that simply serves to make one feel better about one’s self-it does not lead to true healing-for the people hurt nor for the “perpetrators” (for lack of a better word).

Towards the end of the episode- Jack seems to change course.

GWEN: Use me. Leave Carys. Take my body as host. Just let her live.
JACK: Gwen?
GWEN: I’m stronger than she is. I’ll last longer. You might be able to save me, I don’t know.
JACK: Okay.
TOSH: Jack. You can’t let her.
JACK: Like she said, she’s responsible for this.
GWEN: Come on, then. Do it. Leave her.

In reality, he manages to trap the alien before it takes control of Gwen. Though it was part of an alternative plan, it is the only time he concedes that Gwen needs to take some sort of responsibility for what occurred. In a similar vein, I am NOT suggesting that all talk of forgiveness be thrown out the window or that talk needs to jump to the opposite extreme. But I think Christianity loses a distinct part of its theology when forgiveness is portrayed as something to make a person feel better instead of providing healing and wholeness for all.

Everything Changes

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged-so my skills are a bit rusty…

Everything changes

When interacting with a small child one can be taken back by their view of the world. As adults we often comment on the “innocence” of childhood, at children’s ability to imagine crazy things and their belief that they can literally be anything that they want to be. They have a certain point of view in regards to the world, and as adults we fondly remember our childhood imaginations, our boundless energy, our belief that somehow, everything would work out right. But along the way something changes. The world becomes a less welcoming place, we become aware of things we (hopefully) never knew as children-like the reality of death, abuse, war, murder, violence. For some of us, this awareness comes earlier than others, but at one point there is a recognition  that we can no longer go back to the way things were, for good or ill we can only choose how we will move forward. How will react to this new awareness? Will we allow it to consume us and warp us? Or will we allow this awareness to allow us to grow?

While, “everything changes” is the first official episode of Torchwood, in the Doctor Who/Torchwood universe, the organization has existed for centuries. Cooper becomes the audience’s surrogate as we stumble along with her as she discovers more and more about this mysterious torchwood. Those of us who have watched Doctor Who know a bit more information about torchwood than Gwen does, yet much of what they do is still shrouded in mystery.

When Gwen first learns about the existence of Torchwood and she watches them resurrect someone briefly before her eyes-there is no going back for her. She is about to embark on a dangers, scary, yet fascinating adventure. Yet, even in the first episode we catch a glimpse of how damaging said change and awareness can be. Just like a child who learns the hard way that life isn’t always a safe place, Torchwood can provide people with a glimpse of the nasty, shitty side to the alien world and human existence and foster a yearning for something better-for something that can mitigate or even erase the uncomfortable truths that have been learned. For instance, death, is a part of life. Death bursts our illusions of our invulnerability and our strength. Death makes a mockery of our plans and our hopes and it reduces us to nothing more than a memory. What if you discovered something that could eradicate death? Remember when you were a young child and death was just a strange word you couldn’t comprehend? What if you became aware of technology that could reduce death to nothing more than a strange concept that has no concrete basis in reality? What if the price for using it was to comment murder?

When Suzie got a hold of the resurrection glove, she had a choice. She could simply use it on official Torchwood business or she could try and see if she could manipulate it, have a chance at eradicating death. But for her the fact that she knew of the existence of this technology became too much for her. She was consumed by the awareness that resurrection can occur at least temporarily and she was obsessed with the possibility that death could be permanently eradicated. .

SUZIE: You’re the only one who can make the link. Well, the only one in public. Torchwood’s going to find out by morning, but I’ll be gone. I don’t know where. Far away. What am I going to do? I loved this job. I really loved it. And now I’ve got to run. Oh, Christ. How can you do any other job after this one?
GWEN: Please, put down the gun.
SUZIE: Cos it gets inside you. You do this job for long enough, and you end up thinking, how come we get all the Weevils and bollocks and shit? Is that what alien life is? Filth? But maybe there’s better stuff out there, brilliant stuff, beautiful stuff. Just they don’t come here. This planet’s so dirty, that’s all we get. The shit.
GWEN: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
SUZIE: I wish I could forget.

There is no doubt that working at Torchwood changes someone. Just like a death of a loved one touches us in profound ways. We aren’t the same person we once were. Likewise trauma shapes us in varied ways, ways that aren’t always immediately apparent. But the changes that we undergo matter less than how we respond to them. Do we allow said changes to destroy us? To cause a bit of our humanity to die?

Suzie allowed her time at Torchwood and her interaction with the resurrection glove to diminish her humanity and her ability to view the humanity of others.

GWEN: Why did you kill those people?
SUZIE: For the glove. Just stay where you are. I needed the bodies. That’s how it works, violent death. And it was so easy. To bring them back, I’d position myself behind the head, so they’d never see me twice.
GWEN: You killed three people.
SUZIE: It was the only way. The more I use the glove, the more I control it.

The people she killed weren’t people with hopes, dreams, families, but they were just disposable vessels which could help her accomplish her goal. They were collateral damage.

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She claims that she is acting an altruistic manner. She states that she needed to kill people-they were simply sacrifices to a greater cause. She became aware of a new world, of new powers and instruments and what did she want to do? She wanted to use this awareness for her own benefit. She claims it is for others, but is she really just justifying the murders of three people to assuage her conscious? She also betrays her friends. Her awareness of the vast universe, consumed her and chipped away at her humanity.

In a similar way, I am reminded of the process of awareness that we all go through as we age. The world begins to lose some of its luster and its magic as we begin to confront a world filled with evil, pain, and suffering. There is no escaping this awareness, but there is a choice in how we react to this awareness. Will we become angry and bitter as we curse the world and it’s meaningless? Will we decide that since life is so short and filled with suffering that we should only be concerned with ourselves as individuals and screw everyone else? Or will we decide to view life as an adventure-a scary, at times painful, adventure but one where we can learn to love others and perhaps helped elevate some of that suffering. Some people try to ignore the reality of the world-but pain and suffering manages to sneak up on everyone. The question is what do we do once we figure out that living consists of joy, but also sorrow? Will we react like Gwen: with trepidation, fear, and yet a sense of excitement or like Suzie? Bitter and angry, and willing to treat the lives of other people as meaningless?

Every Christmas is Last Christmas and this is Ours.

Underneath the jokes and silliness (the scene where Santa Claus triumphantly rides Rudolph, comes to mind) lies an undercurrent of sorrow and regret. After all, the end of season 8 saw Danny die and Clara and the Doctor lying to one another, believing that doing so was in the other person’s best interest. Clara, who is more shocked by the appearance of the Doctor, than with the appearance of Santa Claus and his elves on her roof, tells the Doctor that she never thought she would see him again. In fact when he first appears she does not utter a word and simply stares at him in shock. And as the TARDIS starts up she remarks,

Clara: Oh that noise. I never knew how much I loved it.

Clara and the Doctor together again, facing a new and confusing danger. Before the Doctor showed up, Clara was grieving her double loss. She lost Danny, the person she loves and the person she lied to on a consistent basis, taking for granted that he would always be at home waiting for her to return from her adventures. And she lost the Doctor and with him the possibilities of exploring new worlds and encountering strange creatures. She was alone in her grief. The life she knew with the Doctor was over and the life she had with Danny along with the future she planned to have with him was nothing more than a dream. But the Doctor coming back into her life represented not only the possibility of a new beginning but also serves as a connection to her past, the past she wants so badly to return to. It makes sense that when the Doctor asks her about her beliefs in Santa Claus that she would answer in the affirmative:

Doctor: There’s something you have to ask yourself and it’s important. Your life may depend on it, everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa clause?

Clara: Do you know what? Yeah. Right now…yeah I think I do.

Santa Claus represents a fantasy and the fulfillment of deeply cherished wishes. Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s sudden return is reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning getting the one gift that he/she was pinning and hoping for. And when Clara later learns that this is a dream and that what is happening is not real, her voice registers the disappointment.

But despite the cheerful and perplexing beginning to the episode, we are quickly reminded that Clara is still grieving. Clara, frightened, confused, and perhaps a bit excited at the dangerous situation she and the Doctor have just landed in, quickly becomes awash in anger, regret, and guilt when the Doctor, in an attempt to protect her from the dream crabs mentions Danny and states that he is probably flirting and texting other women. She slaps the Doctor, not simply because no woman would want to hear that said about a loved one, but because she knew that Danny was dead and he was never coming back.

Doctor: I was only…

Clara: Danny Pink is dead.

Doctor: No he’s not.

Clara: He’s dead.

Her grief over Danny’s death remains palpable. In one scene as Clara desperately attempts to stop thinking about the dream crab that is slowly making its way towards her, she sits on the floor, expressing her remorse and guilt over how she treated Danny:

Clara: Danny…Danny… Danny pink, I love you. I know I’ll never see you again and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry.

In the next moment, she is transported into a world where Danny Pink is still alive and where she gets to spend Christmas with him. The happiness in her face is evident and when the Doctor comes to inform her that she is not only dreaming but dying, she doesn’t want to leave. She would rather continue dreaming than go back to a reality without Danny. In fact, it’s not the Doctor who convinces her to wake up-but Danny. Clara, in her subconscious knows, that Danny would want her to get on with her life. He would want her to live.

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For many Christians, Christmas, at least theologically speaking, is a celebratory holiday. Christmas celebrates the story of the incarnation (whether one believes it to be a “literal, historical event” or a metaphor)-of God becoming flesh, of God coming into our messy, broken, world through the form of a helpless baby. The incarnation tells the story of God breaking into our world, to protest violence and injustice, and to bring healing to a broken world. Christmas is viewed as a day of hope, yet it is also a day of suffering, pain and death. Being human means confronting finitude and death. The celebration of new life is always paired with the knowledge that all life eventually ends

Some people this year are reeling from the fact that Christmas 2013, was the last holiday they would spend with a loved one and that this year their loved one’s presence is reduced to a memory, an empty table or bed. Others are struggling with the fact that this Christmas might very well be the last one they have with their loved one, as they witness family members or friends struggle with illnesses and failing health etc. And yet for others, we don’t know what the future holds-our loved ones are healthy, (or appear so) and there is no reason to suspect that next year’s Christmas will be any different from this year’s. Yet all it takes is a couple of minutes for life to be uprooted. Neither Danny nor Clara ever imagined that he would be killed in a car accident. They never imagined that in the minutes between the last words he uttered and Clara’s brief pause as she waited for him to respond, that he would be killed.

Likewise, every day, somewhere in the world, family members and friends are coming to terms with a loved one’s unexpected death. A car accident, a fast moving illness, a fall, a suicide, events which seem to come out of nowhere and irrevocably change the lives of those left behind. I imagine that the family and friends of those on flight Air Asia QZ8501, never expected that a routine, short flight would bring their world crashing down. Yes there have been two incidents earlier in the year with Malaysian airlines, yet the chances of such an incident occurring in the first place is astronomical, and for it to happen again within the same year strikes one as impossible. It’s the stuff of movies, but not something that happens in this day and age. Millions of planes take off and land safely throughout the world multiple times a day. This particular air craft had completed over 13,000 successful flights before embarking on this one. Yet the family and friends of Air Asia QZ8501 are facing hours and days (hopefully no more than that) of uncertainty. The life that they were enjoying just a few days ago has irrevocably been changed and as the hours drag into days the chances of finding their loved ones alive decreases. I imagine their mind goes back to the last conversation, the last time they spoke with a loved one.

It is easy to see why Clara didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant going back to a reality where Danny no longer exists but staying in the dream world would ultimately cause her death. In a similar way so many Christians seem to be caught in their own version of a dream world-they embrace a theological worldview that states that if they only pray hard enough, or go to church enough, or act “good” enough that everything will turn out ok. The pains and bruises of life won’t hurt them. Or they embrace a sentimentalized version of the incarnation-one with cute baby animals, an adorable baby Jesus, and a remarkably clean and relaxed Mary. All traces of pain and suffering are neatly left out of the commercialized representation of Jesus’ birth. Others hold on to the idea of an afterlife. I am not saying that an afterlife does or does not exist, I don’t know. However, there are some who focus so much on the possibility of an afterlife that they forget to live in the here and now. They hold on desperately to a notion of heaven that will provide them with a second chance to see their loved ones or to make amends. Living in the real world requires an acknowledgment of the messiness of life.

Yet, in the midst of the undercurrents of sorrow and grief in the episode, hope is also embraced. In some cases, second chances are possible. Danny was gone, Clara was going to spend the rest of her life without his physical presence. But yet she and the Doctor do get a second chance. They get to start again.

Doctor: We should do this every Christmas;

Clara: Because every Christmas is last Christmas.

Doctor: I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.

Santa: Doctor, how much do you wish that?

The Doctor thought he waited too long to go help Clara. He believed that 62 years had passed and he arrived to find Clara older, frailer, and dying. He very well may have been saying goodbye to her. And of course he regrets it. He grieves the adventures they never had, the years he missed. But in this case, the Doctor and Clara are still under the influence of the dream crabs, meaning that he still has time to save her before it is too late. He still has time to go on adventures with her while she is young and able.

Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.

Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.

There is a fine line between having hope and getting lost in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. In fact, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. I wish  a checklist existed that one can consult that will let one know, “ok you are acting out of hope,” or “you need a reality check.” But like most things in life, hope isn’t that easy to define. But there is one major difference between hope and living in a dream world: hope takes pain, suffering and death seriously. It does not seek to present a sanitized and pristine version of life, but it takes into account the sorrow and grief that encompasses life. Yet hope states that one will not be destroyed by death and anguish.

Hope confronts the reality of death yet it also holds on to the idea that life is meaningful. It grieves the loss of a loved one while also cherishing the time and moments that were shared. Hope looks at the incarnation story and refuses to sanitize it, it recognizes that Jesus came into the world as we all do-through a process that is painful (for the mother) and messy, yet it recognizes the beauty in that moment. Hope recognizes that Jesus’ life would be one of anguish and trouble, but that good would come out of all the betrayal, persecution, and violence Jesus would suffer.

Death in Heaven: Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill…

DOCTOR: I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now, she’s trying to tear the world apart, and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together. The difference is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.

CYBER-DANNY: Are you telling me seriously, for real, that you can?
DOCTOR: Of course I can.
CYBER-DANNY: Then shame on you, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Yes. Oh, yes.

I love graduate school. I get to go to school and study what I love (though the prospect of not getting a job and being able to pay off my loans does frighten me…). But one thing that I’ve noticed after reading various theological opinions is how beautiful some words can be but in practice they seem to fall short. There are some theologians who are able to capture the hope and promise that God gives. A promise that states that blood, violence, and oppression will not have the last word. But the more I study the more I realize how big the gap is between how things are and how they should be. I’ve written on numerous occasions about a loving deity, about compassion, about perhaps finding different ways of dealing with oppression outside of violence. But to be honest there are times, where I look back at what I have written and it feels like nothing more than empty words on a page. Don’t get me wrong, while I am writing I fully believe and am committed to what I am saying, but sometimes, after learning about a friend’s struggle, or reading about injustice, or the cycle of oppression that keeps on going, no matter what anyone does, I find myself thinking, “words. These are just empty words that I was able to string together to sound vaguely beautiful or interesting.”

I do hope for a loving God, a God of compassion and justice. But when I continue to have to live in a society where I am devalued-for my race, my gender, my sexuality, I get angry. Hearing again and again, the voices of people crying for justice-structural racism that continues to cause deaths, dictators or revolutionaries who promised their people that a day of change is coming only to continue the cycle of oppression, makes me feel enraged and hopeless. As a result I find myself wishing not just that the structures that enable such suffering are dismantled, but that those that are intentionally perpetrating them be destroyed. On those occasions, violence makes sense to me. If those in power won’t hear the cries for justice then perhaps we should make them listen. If authority will only give lip service to human rights and justice, fine, let’s take justice into our own hands.

I have little patience for those who have ignored the cries of those being slaughtered and then decide to try and take the moral high ground and tell the oppressed how they should act. “Fuck you.” I want to scream. And quite frankly, I try to give them as little of my time and energy as possible. Those who have ignored the cries of the hurting, who get angry when the truth is bought to their ears already have enough people listening to their fake cries of victimhood. I don’t want to dignify them with even more attention.

But do I really believe that violence is a useful response? Do I really believe violence, even done in the name of goodness, really accomplishes a more just and peaceful world?

DOCTOR: You’re part of a hive mind now. Presumably that’s how you found Clara. Just look.
CYBER-DANNY: I can’t see much.
DOCTOR: Look harder.
CYBER-DANNY: Clara, watch this. This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood-soaked old general in action. I can’t see properly, sir, because this needs activating. If you want to know what’s coming, you have to switch it on. And didn’t all of those beautiful speeches just disappear in the face of a tactical advantage? Sir.
DOCTOR: (sighs) I need to know. I need to know.

The Doctor tried to convince Clara and Danny the value of emotions. The Doctor argues that the only difference between him and Missy, is that the he feels pain. Danny of course, sees right through the Doctor’s bull shit. The Doctor is good at giving nice little speeches, but he has no qualms disregarding them if he feels that he needs too.

In many ways I feel like I do the same. I talk about the importance of demonstrating a new way of living. Of working together with the oppressed-not trying to “save” them, but trying to listen and understand. I encourage those of us part of marginalized groups to advocate for justice without stooping to the level of our oppressors. But how do you do that when you are constantly ignored? When God’s promise-of love, justice, seems so far away that they appear to be nothing more than shallow words? There are time where I read back what I have written and wonder if I really believe that justice will one day reign and that God is actually a God of love who sides with those who are systematically abused.

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The Doctor is disgusted by the army that Missy has given him and the seemingly unlimited power she offers. Yet I have to wonder, did the Doctor even feel a tiny bit tempted? He not only has a TARDIS but an endless army that could right any wrong. Did he not see that as a way to use violence in a redemptive fashion?

I have to admit, that if given the same opportunity, I am not sure I would have so easily turned it down. Can you imagine? The power and ability to forcibly stop those who use others as mere play things to be exploited? Imagine all the evil that could be stopped. I care deeply about ending tyranny and domination. And there’s a lot in this world. Not just in places that are often reported on the news-but the places that are long forgotten and that are engulfed in civil wars. Or places that were the focus of media attention a few years ago for their resistance to tyranny only to be taken over by new tyrants. If given an army, if given that amount of power, who wouldn’t want to take it?

“Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill.” But then again, where would I stop? Isn’t it the same old story repeated over and over again in history? Those tired of being oppressed, rise up, sometimes through violent means. And if they succeed-if they manage to kill or drive the old leader into exile, a new system ostensibly rises up claiming to be different. And perhaps for a while they are. But then those who have risen to power find that they don’t want to give up power. “Evil” isn’t concentrated in a few individuals. You get rid of those who are supposedly evil only to find that the system of domination continues. And once again, more people need to be stopped and killed. The number of people, who would have to be killed would never end and ultimately I would become just like those I seek to overthrow.

DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What’s the matter, Mister President? Don’t you trust yourself?

God’s promises often seem so far away. And while I would never dare to tell others living through oppression how they should or should not react* I need to deeply examine my gut reaction to oppression and injustice. It is easy to look at those who have been pushed to violence and condemn them, especially if one has been ignoring their cries and pleas for justice. But it is much harder to look within ourselves and see how far we have fallen. To see the gap between what we profess to believe and how we act.

Missy was offering the Doctor a false promise. Yes the Doctor could use the army to stop injustices and to prevent the “bad guys” from winning, but she knew that by doing so, the Doctor would be admitting that he really isn’t that different from her. Missy now and in her previous incarnations sought power and was willing to kill for it. Ostensibly the Doctor would have power, but would be using it for good. Yet to have that much power is dangerous. There comes a tipping point where it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys because they use the same violent and exploitative means.

I want to stop injustice and part of me wants to advocate that by any means possible. But by doing so what would that make me? Like I said before, I refuse to condemn those who have been pushed to violent action by injustice, especially if I have not experienced what they have. Those within the marginalized community acting out will have to speak out if they so choose too. (ie, since I am not in Mexico, I will not tell those protesting violently against the government that they should stop and do something else instead.) But all I can do is examine my own reactions and motives. Am I acting in a way that leads me closer to the world I envision or further away?

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Questions of identity were central to this season. The Doctor needed to figure out what type of person he was-was he a good man? Was he evil? Was he a hero? He didn’t know who he was, and his uncertainty showed. There were moments he acted heroically and there were moments he acted cruelly. But finally at the end of this season he figured out who he was. An idiot. Someone who makes mistakes. Someone who gets it wrong sometimes. Someone whose best intentions can harm others and who has selfish and manipulative tendencies.

So who am I? Well I’m NOT a violent revolutionist, going out into battle to topple oppressive governments. I’m also not a nonviolent activist dedicating all of my time to various causes. I’m not a politician seeking to directly influence the political system. Those aren’t my gifts or skills. I’m not the world’s savior. And I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know how to be particularly helpful to those who are expressing pain that I will never know. I’m just an idiot. Who loves to learn. Who hopes that in some small way, even as I struggle to live authentically to my beliefs (and figure out what my beliefs are) that I am contributing to the type of world I envision.

Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. I don’t feel God’s love a lot of times. And I don’t particularly feel loving all the time, especially to those whom I believe contribute to systematic violence. (But in all reality, we all contribute, even in some small way to institutional injustice). I don’t particularly feel like advocating for a new way of living, when it seems as if most people could care less about who they intentionally or inadvertently hurt. I am a hypocritical wreck who struggles with what I believe, but who can string together words in such a way that I give the impression that I know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t know. The only thing I can do, the only scrape of knowledge and hope I can hold onto is the notion that love is indeed a promise. That God’s love isn’t fickle or conditional, that God not only loves me, but loves a hurting world enough to take part in our suffering in pain. I hold on, even weakly, to the promise that working towards justice, working towards of world of peace, makes some small difference.

*Theologian Walter Wink said it best: “When an oppressive regime has squandered every opportunity to do justice, and the capacity of the people to continue suffering snaps, then the violence visited on the nation is a kind of apocalyptic judgment. In such a time. Christians have no business judging those who take up violence out of desperation. The guilt lies with those who turned justice aside and did not know the hour of their visitation…”

Dark Water: “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

Dark Water starts off with a twist: Danny dies within the first five minutes. And he dies, as Clara describes it, a boring and ordinary death.
GRAN: It’s a terrible thing. Just a terrible, terrible thing.
CLARA: It wasn’t terrible.
GRAN: Clara?
CLARA: It was boring.
GRAN: Boring?
CLARA: It was ordinary. People just kept walking with their iPods and their shopping bags. He was alive, and then he was dead and it was nothing. Like stepping off a bus.
GRAN: He deserved better. And so did you.
CLARA: I don’t deserve anything. Nobody deserves anything. But I am owed better. I am owed.
Clara isn’t a stranger to death-she lost her mother as a teenager and of course during her travels with the Doctor she has witnessed numerous deaths-some very gruesome. She herself, has also faced death on more than one occasion. Yet she has also helped the Doctor save an untold number of lives. She reminded the Doctor there was another way to end the Time War and she has helped save the world and universe. She-the impossible girl-has done so many amazing things. And yet, Danny-the person she loves- dies by getting hit by a car. Danny-who had survived a war zone dies a simple death. There is nothing particularly heroic or memorable about getting hit by a car. Yet, Clara isn’t willing to accept that he is dead. She wants Danny back, and she feels that she is owed at least that much. How many times has she saved the Doctor? How many times has she had his back?

None of us will face homicidal aliens, Daleks, or a mummy soldier. Yet we will all face the death of a loved one. If one watches the news-it seems as if those of us in the western world are facing numerous catastrophic dangers. Terrorist attacks, deadly illnesses, brutal murders (because regular shootings, especially in low income neighborhoods are so blasé and not noteworthy), kidnappings, etc. are presented as very real risks, but the reality is that for a good number of us, our loved ones will die a boring, ordinary death: Old age, health problems, accidents; deaths that might warrant a paragraph in the local newspaper/website. Deaths that are so ordinary-that they are largely ignored except by those directly affected. And while the world happily moves on, we are left struggling to make sense of a new world without our loved ones.

And of course, some of us like Clara, will feel as if we are owed better. Growing up Pentecostal, we were taught to treat God with the utmost reverence. We weren’t to question why certain things happened-they were all part of God’s plan. Even in many mainline denominations, stating that one is owed something by God would be pretty presumptuous. We are to accept that life is unfair and move on. To question God, to demand that things be different is viewed at best as misguided and at worse as blasphemous. But damn it, sometimes the pain is just so much that we have no choice but to cry out in agony and anger. And based on various theological understandings of God, which in one form or another construe God as manipulative, puppet master, God deserves our anger.
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Clara knows the Doctor and she knows how he would react if she asked him for help in bringing Danny back-or she at least thinks she knows his response. As a result she feels as if she needs to manipulate and threaten the Doctor in order to get her desired response. Her grief and anger, have in fact, alienated her from the Doctor. He is no longer a friend that one can confide in and ask for help, but someone that needs to be forced into helping her.

Clara’s response is borne out of grief and anger, but it is also based on a misunderstanding of the Doctor. She’s seen how cold and uncaring he can be, and even though he has thawed a bit since the beginning of the season, she still feels as if she needs to try and control him in order to get him to help her. Her understanding of who the Doctor is, directly impacts how she approaches him while she was in pain and grieving over Danny’s death.

In a similar way, our notions of God impact how/if we turn to God in the midst of our suffering. Some of us have grown up with a theology that states that God is in control of everything-nothing bad or good happens without God’s permission. In this theological framework, God at best, allows someone we care about to die or suffer, and at worst actively caused said death or suffering. We our left questioning, “Why did God allow/cause this to happen?” While some people do gain comfort from an all-powerful God-others wonder how God could be so uncaring and heartless. How can we trust and seek love from a God that seems to act like a cosmic puppet master, deciding when some will die, saving others, etc? This God deserves our anger and perhaps our hate.

Other theological frameworks focus on God’s anger and humanity’s sinfulness. Death and suffering is viewed as a punishment for humanity’s sin. For instance, natural disasters are interpreted as God’s punishment towards a nation living in sin. The hurricane that killed hundreds of people, including infants and children, occurred because of the legality of abortion or because of the LGBT community’s instance on living a life of “perversion.” Individuals die, because of some sin they had not repented of. Instead of viewing those who die from suicide as being in unbearable emotional and mental anguish, they are portrayed as sinners who refused to look to God for help and sustenance. Those who die from illness or poverty, have only themselves to blame for somehow disobeying God. This God needs to be appeased and feared.
For others God is a heavenly Santa Clause watching our every move and keeping track of how “good” or “bad” we are. If we manage to stay on God’s nice lists, than we and our loved ones will enjoy God’s love and protection. But if we get on God’s “naughty” list-than we can expect God to withhold love and protection from us.

And of course in my blog post, Kill the Moon, I talk about a God that seems to arbitrarily decide when to get involved with the pain of humanity and when to respect humanity’s “free will” and allow things to unfold.

DOCTOR: Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. I told you. We’re going to hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die. If there is anywhere. Wherever it is, we’re going to go there and we’re going to find Danny. And if it is in any way possible, we’re going to bring him home. Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around, see if I could find one.
CLARA: You’re going to help me?
DOCTOR: Well, why wouldn’t I help you?
CLARA: Because of what I just did. I just
DOCTOR: You betrayed me. Betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!
CLARA: Then why are you helping me?
DOCTOR: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

So much of our theology is based on fear and appeasing God. But what if like Clara, we have misunderstood the level of compassion God has for us? Clara thought she needed to manipulate the Doctor in order to convince him to help her, so when the Doctor reveals that the previous scenario hadn’t actually occurred, she is left wondering where their relationship stands. When the Doctor insists that he is going to help her despite her actions, she is shocked. The Doctor cares about her. He is willing to try and find Danny and bring him back from the dead-even though he is not exactly sure such a thing is even possible. Yet he is willing to try because he cares about her. He loves her. Clara under-estimated how much the Doctor truly does care for her.

Likewise, so many of our ideas about God severely underestimate how loved we are. When it comes to death and suffering, God is seen as the cause or as a being that we need to fear and appease in order to avoid pain. God’s love is directly tied to our actions. When we do good, God loves us more, when we make mistakes or sin, than God loves us a little less. This idea under-girds traditional understandings of the afterlife. God loves us and wants to be with us-but first we have to accept doctrinal statements that weren’t completely formulated until the fourth century. God’s love is conditional and limited. As a result, our interactions with God are about avoiding punishment or trying to get God to help us, protect us etc.

But what if God isn’t an angry puppet master, who for some reason or other, decides that one person will die while another lives? What if we understood God as our companion in our suffering? What if we let go of defining God primarily in terms of power and instead focus on God’s love and desire for relationship with humanity? Christians- often offer theological notions that simply support the lopsided power structures dominant in our world. To minimize or even question God’s omnipotence, is seen as discarding a central, necessary tenant of Christianity. But why do we desire an all-powerful God so much-one who cause or at least wills bad events to happen, one who decides when and where to get involved in the suffering of humanity?

The Doctor is betrayed by Clara. He saw how far she is willing to go in order to manipulate him and get what she wants. Yet he essentially dismisses her actions as unimportant. He doesn’t demand an apology, he simply tells her that his love for her is greater than her betrayal. Of course he will help her, even though he thinks what she is asking is impossible, of course he will stay by her side. Steven Moffat, through the Doctor, seems to understand the nature of love, yet somehow we insist that God’s love is based on power, control, and fear. God doesn’t cause our suffering. God’s heart breaks when we are in pain. And when we get angry, curse God, etc God isn’t ready to strike us down with a lightning bolt, or humble us. God is willing to listen to us, to hear our pain, and when we calm down, God reassures us of God’s love. When we behave in ways that are terrible, when we hurt others and hurt God, God loves us. Of course God hold us accountable, but accountability is not necessarily synonymous with punishment. God is a God of love and grace. And no matter what we go through or what we do, nothing will ever change God’s love for us.

What if God, like the Doctor wonders, “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Do we think that our actions, our emotions, our pain could cause God to love us less?

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